The Western Balkans (WB6: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia) went through a particularly dramatic initial COVID-19 pandemic course, with inter alia high excess mortality (direct and indirect pandemic related deaths), low vaccination rates and stressed public healthcare systems. Consequently, the risk of future waves of the COVID-19 pandemic further impacting the region in 2021 was high.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) had been active in several countries of the Western Balkans before the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the institute is supporting the conduction of intra-action reviews to assess the pandemic response in Montenegro and Kosovo. Based on these assessments, several needs are being identified in the main areas of immediate response to COVID-19, but also in regard to preparedness for future health threats. The good relationship with the Government of Montenegro and the local WHO Country Office provides an excellent opportunity to address these needs in one country – Montenegro – first, with the possibility to subsequently expand the activities to other WB6 countries with Montenegro acting as a hub.
CORRAL supports COVID-19 response activities by establishing capacities that will likewise increase resilience to future threats. The main objectives are:
- Providing additional laboratory capacities and supporting genomic surveillance by implementing techniques for the determinant of circulating variants of SARS-CoV-2.
- Extending clinical capacities and number of clinicians, with special focus on treatment of severe COVID-19 cases.
- Supporting COVID-19 and public health emergency management by establishing a virtual Emergency Operations Centre and improving surveillance systems.
WALTON. Provide additional laboratory capacities
In this module, training for staff members to conduct PCR diagnostics for SARS-CoV-2 in the newly established laboratory in Berane, Montenegro, takes place. In addition, genomic surveillance capacities for SARS-CoV-2 are being established in Podgorica, Montenegro. Lastly, a Regional Summer School training for sequence data analysis is being conducted with participants from all WB6 countries.
MoCCA. Support a more unified and stringent approach to the treatment of COVID-19 patients
In this module, a partner network of health care experts between the Clinical Centre of Montenegro (KCCG) and the Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin is being established. Three cohorts of four selected clinicians each from Montenegro receive training at the Charité in Berlin in 2021 and 2022. In addition, two webinar series are being conducted for clinicians in Montenegro in 2021 and 2022.
MovE. Support the implementation of a virtual EOC
In this module, the software environment for a virtual Emergency Operating Centre (vEOC) is being implemented in the National Public Health Institute of Montenegro, in order to improve future responses to public health emergencies. This includes intensive training of vEOC managers and stakeholders. WHO is being supported in developing surveillance tools that feed into vEOCs.
FETP-WB. Establish a regional FETP network
In this module, the establishment of a Western Balkan network of Field Epidemiology Training Programmes (FETP) is being prepared. Besides initial planning activities, assessment visits on the national FETPs in three of the Western Balkan countries are to take place.